THE WIDOW'S MITES
© 2008 Bob Freeman

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Mark 12:41-44. (See also Luke 21:1-4.)

    These verses from the book of Mark have been used in sermons on Christian stewardship more than a few times. However, if we consider the facts, we might wonder what lesson the passage teaches about why we as believers should contribute to the work of the church. Maybe we should give all the money we have or maybe we should at least give enough to force us to do without food once in a while. It is instructive to read the passages where Paul instructed the churches as to giving of their means.
    In the fifteenth chapter of Romans, he writes:

But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
Romans 15:25-27.

Here, Paul mentions the plight of believers at Jerusalem and the giving to their welfare by members of other churches. Without giving any request or demand to the Romans, he lets them know of an opportunity to take part in what he considers to be a good work. He also refers to the financial support as being proper because the gentiles have shared in spiritual blessings.
 
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The Widow's Mites (cont)

    In writing to the church at Corinth, Paul is more firm in his admonishment to send relief to the church at Jerusalem:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me. Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia.
I Corinthians 16:1-5.

He does remind the Corinthians that he will be going to them by way of Macedonia. The church at Philippi had a reputation for being generous to the saints at Jerusalem as indicated by his comments to the Romans. So, perhaps he was using the possibility of embarrassment as a motivator to have their contributions collected before he arrived. After all, there might be a delegation from Philippi traveling with Paul.
    The English expression I have given order is much stronger than the Greek word diatasso, which, in this case, has to do with prescribing suitable arrangements. And, since the record doesn't indicate that Paul had pressured the Romans to send money to Jerusalem, it appears that he was responding to certain churches' volunteered promises to do so. In fact, a later statement by Paul would lead to the same conclusion:

For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting.
II Corinthians 9:1-4.

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The Widow's Mites (cont)

    As for the Philippians that had given money generously and promptly, we can read these words:

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12,13.

Paul is not telling Christians that they should always be fearful and trembling and the first three verses of that chapter give the necessary background:

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Philippians 2:1-3.

Putting those verses together, we can see that Paul very diplomatically chastised the Philippians for feeling proud of themselves for their generosity and letting others know of that pride. And, he has a few words for the Corinthians concerning their apparent lack of interest in providing financial support to him:

For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
II Corinthians 9:9.

The quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 summarizes much of the content of that ninth chapter. He, as an apostle, was worthy of their support, especially since he had preached to them personally. He had not requested money and they hadn't seen fit to offer any.
    In writing to Timothy, Paul lets us know that God still ordains a merit system:

Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
I Timothy 5:17.

The word translated rule is the Greek proistemi, which literally means to stand before or preside; not to be a monarch. And, the emphasis is on feeding God's sheep, not being strong administrators. The word is translated as maintain in Titus 3:8 and 3:14, as in maintain good works. The Revised Standard Version translates it as apply themselves in the verses in Titus, but translates it as rule in I Timothy 5:17.
    In the letter to the Galatians, Paul delivers a generic exhortation for Christians to provide financial support to the church:

Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Galatians 6:6-8.

There are at least two noteworthy points in that passage. First, the money is to be paid by those being taught to the ones that do the teaching and the implication is that the teaching has some spiritual value. But, also the money paid can be thought of as being invested in an account that will provide everlasting spiritual returns. The contrast is with money that we save in a bank or spend on material things, since all material things will someday be done away with.
    All of the passages quoted here have, in some way, to do with supporting those that provide spiritual sustenance to other Christian by delivering God's word. But, there is no prohibition of using some money for conveniences such as buildings, as long as the preachers are supported first. We have to rely on the judgement of mature Christians as to what expenditures are suitable.
    What do Paul's comments about Christian giving have to do with the widow and her two mites? Nothing and everything. She was destitute and not required to pay any tithe under the law, because that tax was a flat ten percent of a family's increase in wealth. In order to understand why Jesus called the disciples' attention to the woman, we have merely to read the three verses immediately prior to the passage quoted at the beginning of this article:

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
Mark 12:38-40. (See also Luke 20:46,47.)

Jesus was presenting the woman as a living (so far) example of a widow whose house the scribes had devoured instead of seeing to her support as they should have.
    The scribes (religious leaders) still are with us and are using every confidence scheme they can imagine to extort and otherwise wheedle money from people that barely have enough income to live on. They are still devouring widows' (and widowers') houses.

Bob Freeman

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